Sixth State Dept. worker pleads guilty to passport snooping

Karal Busch, 28, of District Heights, Maryland, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of unauthorized computer access. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 15

A sixth person who has worked for the U.S. Department of State has pleaded guilty to a charge related to illegally accessing electronic passport application files, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Karal Busch, 28, of District Heights, Maryland, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of unauthorized computer access. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 15.

Busch was among a group of State Department employees or contractors who were targeted for prosecution after March 2008 news reports of employees there accessing the electronic passport files of three presidential candidates: Senator John McCain, now President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, now the secretary of state. The inspector general's office at the State Department later found that there had been widespread breaches of the agency's Passport Information Electronic Records System, or PIERS.

Busch worked for the State Department as a citizens services specialist in the Office of Children’s Issues from June 2003 through July 2006, the DOJ said in a press release. As part of her guilty plea, Busch said she had access to PIERS and other State Department databases. PIERS contains the full names, dates and places of birth, current addresses and other personal information from passport applicants.

Access to PIERS is restricted to official government duties under the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974.

Between March 2004 and June 2006, Busch logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of more than 65 celebrities and their families, actors, professional athletes, musicians, models and other individuals identified in the press, the DOJ said. Busch had no official government reason to access the passport files, and her sole purpose was "idle curiosity," the DOJ said.

Between last September and earlier this month, five other State Department employees or contractors have pleaded guilty to passport snooping charges. The three men who have been sentenced have received probation, plus community service or fines.

Most recently, William Celey, a file assistant, pleaded guilty July 10 to unlawfully accessing more than 75 confidential passport files. Celey is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 23.

On Aug. 17, Kevin Young, a contact representative, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 125 confidential passport files. Young is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 9.

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